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Scheme may have protected Westport

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A multi-million dollar flood protection program proposed for Westport would have avoided most of the damage caused by massive flooding last weekend, according to Randal Beal, director of operations for the West Coast Regional Council.

The council has included the Westport project in its 2021-2031 long-term plan, which has yet to be released.

Mr Beal said the project involved extensive dams and flood walls – essentially fencing the town off the Buller and Orowaiti rivers and would cost $ 10.2 million.

“ It’s designed for a centennial flood in the Buller … and if that would have protected the city this time, the simple answer is yes, unless there was a flood bank failure. ” , Mr. said Beale.

“There would probably still have been surface flood damage to some properties from stormwater, but not to the same extent or over large areas. “

The area council originally pitched the project to Westport taxpayers in 2017, but they had little appetite for it, Beal said.

Only 10.8% of those questioned supported it; 24.6% preferred to do nothing about their city’s flood risk and 30% had no opinion.

“It would have been an expense for the taxpayer, certainly, and without a majority of support we could not move forward,” Beal said.

The area council also tried to present the Westport flood protection program to the government last year, for funding as a ready-to-go project, but it was turned down.

The town received a small amount to upgrade its flood warning telemetry system, while larger grants went to shutdown bank projects in Franz Josef, Greymouth and Hokitika.

Buller Mayor Jamie Cleine said Westport would have to renew its discussion of flood risks, but last weekend’s event had set new benchmarks for the kind of protection the city would need at the to come up.

Sixty-five homes had been tagged or boarded up by Tuesday night, and more likely to suffer the same fate after the Raging Buller sent floodwaters sweeping through the Orowaiti and across land through farms and low-lying residential areas.

Mr Cleine said the flood defied all previous modeling and that some ideas that had previously been put forward as solutions to protect the city would have been of little use.

In a letter to local newspapers last week, former Westport mayor Pat O’Dea berated advice for failing to remove gravel from the Buller’s bed and keep Orowaiti’s overflow free of vegetation.

“I believe that the Buller River poses a major threat to the lives and property of the people of Westport and its immediate surroundings … the councils do nothing to solve the problem that the riverbed is constantly growing. raise. “

The river bed at low tide was higher than at any time in recent decades and the Orowaiti overflow was completely overgrown, Mr O’Dea said.

All of this will see the river cross behind O’Conor’s house and flood many areas of Westport … the engineers who designed the harbor and the town guard would turn around in their graves to see how the area is in danger. due to the lack of maintenance of critical safety valves. ”

Mr Cleine said no amount of gravel removal or willow cleanup would have stopped what happened last weekend.

” In a flood of this size, the riverbed doesn’t matter anymore – the water is just a few feet above and in this case the volume and force of the water was so important. that even the high tide had no effect on her.

“Usually you get a wave and a peak at high tide, but not with the Buller – not this time – it kept pushing out to sea and there was no difference in the flood level. That’s how huge it was. ”

Residents of Westport will have the opportunity to reconsider the $ 10.2 million barrage and barrier wall plan for their town, and a second, cheaper option with partial dams, when the long-term plan both expected from the regional council will be published for community consultation.

At this point, the long-term plan with the details of a potentially large general rate hike is still with auditors.

– By Lois Williams, local democracy journalist


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